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Why book clubs don’t work for me

Posted in Life & Love

book-club-I am reading a book about a book club, populated by women more intent on eating, dishing out on each other and talking about sex than actually discussing books. The premise is an excuse for some thrilling adventures on the part of the first person voice narrator, and for dropping the titles of some high-brow tomes.

Book clubs are mostly an exquisite female idea – with food and wine thrown in the mix – as if we needed a book to find reasons to get together.

I have given the book club a try more than once and I have come to the conclusion that I must be one of those people who thinks of reading as an intensely solitary adventure.
I see the rules of a book club as constraints instead of a nudge towards adventure: the allotted time given to read; being forced to read authors chosen by others and having to cook when it comes discussion time. I know. It’s clearly me. But, believe me, I tried. Three times.

What ends up happening is that, after a couple of suggestions I cannot get through for a variety of reasons, I start resenting the whole affair. I guess it boils down to “I want to read what I want to read whenever I feel like it.” There. I said it. I am a selfish reader.

And, yet, I love discussing books with my friends, exchanging recommendations (which I am free to follow or not) and, above all, I love buying books for people: trying to imagine what could draw them in, what would excite them and zero in on just the perfect title.

Books-05-2000Mostly, I love discovering books – a friend’s exciting post on Facebook that intrigues me enough to click on Amazon; a second-hand paperback bought for a few dollars, just because I loved the cover; a gift from someone who knows me; a book left behind on a plane or a rented apartment.
Books enter and exit my days in a fluid continuum. It cannot be that, because it’s November, we have to read Jane’s suggestion.

While I was writing this post, I came across this paragraph that Doris Lessing wrote as part of her introduction to The Golden Notebook, in 1971, and that really resonated:

There is only one way to read, which is to browse in libraries and bookshops, picking up books that attract you, reading only those, dropping them when they bore you, skipping the parts that drag — and never, never reading anything because you feel you ought, or because it is part of a trend or a movement. Remember that the book which bores you when you are twenty or thirty will open doors for you when you are forty or fifty — and vice-versa. Don’t read a book out of its right time for you.

Above all, I love receiving obscure recommendations. So: what have you read recently that was weird and wonderful and unexpected?

 

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27 Comments

  1. Oh dear, seems like it is up to me to defend the idea of joining a book club! When I moved to the UK from South Africa (in 1973 -ulp!) one of the things I most missed was my book club.
    Because books in SA were (are?) relatively expensive, the idea of a group of people – and yes, it was usually women – getting together, pooling their resources to buy books which would enter a common reading pool, was a very practical one. At the meetings folk discussed what they had read and what they liked/disliked. Every month people paid their dues and the next person to host the club would take the kitty to the local bookshop and choose half a dozen books, a couple of hard-backs and the rest paperbacks. The local bookshops would give book clubs a generous discount. It was a win-win situation.
    the
    In the UK that format did not work, bookshops would not give discounts for a start. So the US model was adopted which was that a book would be chosen in advance, the book club members would read it, and at a future meeting the book would be discussed. There were numerous ways that the book to be read would be chosen. All members had a variety of ways of choosing the books they would recommended for reading

    When I started a book club in north London back in 1990, we decided that we should choose books that could be borrowed from libraries as well as being purchased, as we all had different incomes. It worked very well. Over the years we were challenged by having to read books that were outside our comfort zones, having to read books in translation, having to read (re-read classics), having to read some extremely controversial books. Everything was grist to our mill. We, individually and severally, discovered new authors, found books we would have normally eschewed but that we came to love. Most of us devour book reviews in newspapers, magazines, book blogs and other places.

    None of the book club activity stopped us from finding books in other ways, or from discussing books we loved (or hated) with book-reading friends who did not belong to our club.
    Never-the-less the book club has an enjoyable place in our reading lives.

    October 17, 2016
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    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      And I am glad you did. Defend the book club I mean, because I think it is a wonderful idea but it needs a group cohesiveness that is hard to achieve. I know of other successful book clubs so your experience is not so rare. Because my time is limited, if I find myself reading books I don’t care for, I start resenting the experience (and the book club).

      October 17, 2016
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  2. Loved this post. It definitely sums up my feeling about book clubs too. They sound so great in theory, but I think my real problem is that I just want to be in charge of picking all the books. So maybe I need a book dictatorship instead of a club.

    October 16, 2016
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    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      I nearly used the word “dictatorship” in my post…we are on the same wavelength.

      October 17, 2016
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  3. actually I recently joined a book club here in Switzerland. I have only been twice, but neither time did we talk about sex 🙂 Instead we had an enjoyable meal, some wine and a good chat, some of which was about the book we had read.
    I think what is good is that it pushes you to read some books you might otherwise not read. I have recently finished one actually, and it was really good, but I cannot for the life of me remember the title, or the author! i just looked around for it, and i cannot even find it. But it was good, and not for the book club, but by the same author as we will next read. Ah now I remember it. One hit wonder is the title. I really enjoyed it.

    October 15, 2016
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    • That is why I joined the book clubs, because I thought I would get to read things I would otherwise not come across. But then I start resenting the titles I dislike and feel like I am wasting my time. I think a good book club needs a tight set of people, with similar interests and the ability to pick provocative but interesting titles. Thanks for the recommendation. Will loll it up.

      October 15, 2016
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  4. I would have “loved” this is there had been a love button. I couldn’t agree more.

    October 14, 2016
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    • Sounds mighty interesting….let me get on some German. At least the words that count..

      October 15, 2016
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      • You can get them all by downloading a couple of “interesting” movies. Which have hardly any words at all… 😉

        October 16, 2016
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  5. I generally really appreciate book recommendations from friends, but I have such a massive backlog of books that I want to read, I might have to start declining suggestions. I find it fascinating, though, the books that people read and recommend. Currently, I’m reading “Shalimar the Clown” by Salman Rushdie (coincidentally, it was lent to me by a colleague/friend). I’m not very far into it (about 30 pages) but it’s looking like it’s going to be a very bizarre book…

    As for book clubs, I’ve never even tried joining one for pretty much the same reasons you wrote about. I’m a bit of a selfish reader too.

    October 14, 2016
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    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      I love most (not all) Rushdie’s books (his autobiography is amazing). Shalimar the Clown is not among my favorites but hang in there, it gets better, if you can play along with the magic of some of its parts. The Moor’s Last Sigh is wonderful.

      October 14, 2016
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      • I’m not surprised that you’ve read Rushdie 😉
        I always appreciate your recommendations, and will put his autobiography and The Moor’s Last Sigh on my TBR list.

        October 15, 2016
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  6. Bookclubs have never worked for me either. They are definitely very much more a thing in the US than in France. Here, people do not use a book as an excuse to get together and eat and drink and talk about their sex life.

    October 14, 2016
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    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      I don’t know of book clubs happening in Italy either…

      October 14, 2016
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  7. I am also one that discovered I do not like book clubs. I was surprised the first time I joined one recently and I could not put my finger on why that was, now I know exactly why. The fact that you do not get to chose a book, the time constraint and all the rest, this really hit home.

    October 14, 2016
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    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      And why do we try, do you think? Why do we think it’s such a good idea?

      October 14, 2016
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      • I am not sure but maybe we might think it would be fun to discuss a book we have all read but if all of the people are not close and like minded, it ends up being boring and restrictive. I guess we fantasize, but the concept is not as good as we think it is. Have a nice peaceful weekend!

        October 15, 2016
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  8. Winston moreton
    Winston moreton

    Re-reading an out of print 1951 novel called Brave Company by Guthrie Wilson set in 1944 Italy. Wilson told my grandfather that his late son is in it. So dated the prose but the anti war thread is timeless

    October 14, 2016
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    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      That is so sweet. Sometimes I love delving in old-fashioned books. If the story is good, the prose becomes natural after 50 pages or so.

      October 14, 2016
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  9. I agree with you on book clubs. I’d rather get together with people without the disguise that we’re reading and reviewing a mutual book. As for what I’m currently reading…”The Dark Room” by Rachel Seiffert, an unusual book about the German soul during WW2 from 3 separate and unconnected characters. I have spent more than a passing moment reflecting on the bleak grayness of the war, especially since my mom and her parents lived through it in Frankfurt. What a miserable time for everyone, regardless of their politics.

    October 13, 2016
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    • I must read that. My mother lived through the war in France and my father in Germany so two very different sides.

      October 14, 2016
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      • It’s dark a dark look at what people lived with, the food shortages, the fear when the bombings would start up and how people survived. It gave me a very picturesque look at the grey gloom of a horrible time.

        October 14, 2016
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    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      I read a lot about war time in Italy too as my mother’s family was deeply affected by it. The war really changed the course of my mother’s life. I remember growing up in Italy and still feeling the aftermath of WWII still present.

      October 14, 2016
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  10. I relate to this post because I can’t do book clubs either! Maybe they’re fine for people who need to be encouraged to read, but I’ve never had that problem. From as far back as I can remember I’ve always had my nose in a book, and I’ve almost always selected my own books (in libraries or bookshops), apart from some well-chosen gifts from friends who know me well.

    In school I generally enjoyed the set works we had to read but there were a few I found boring – they were a trial but I read fast and was able to quickly push through and move on. I don’t like to waste time reading things that don’t interest me. I love the Doris Lessing quote too – I’ve spent large parts of my life browsing libraries and bookshops…

    October 13, 2016
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    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      There are books I had to read in school I never picked up again and I wonder whether I judged them unfairly because I was too young for them.

      October 14, 2016
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